tv American History TV CSPAN November 16, 2014 1:10pm-2:01pm EST
day and say we will see you on friday. >> you are watching american history tv -- 48 hours of program on american history every weekend on c-span three. follow us on twitter for information on our schedule, upcoming programs, and to keep up with the latest history news. >> next on american history tv, author and history professor michael ross discusses his book on the 1870 kidnapping of mollie digby. digby was abducted by two black women and the case exacerbated racial tensions. the pratt library in baltimore hosted this 50-minute event.
>> it's nice to be here surrounded by pictures of edgar allen poe and books about poe and baltimore in many ways has a feel a lot like new orleans, an old port city with traditions and a quirky and sometimes spooky history. and i always kind of feel at home in baltimore just as i feel at home in new orleans. and where i lived for 10 years. what i want to do tonight is introduce you to this case that has a kind of -- that has kind of disappeared from the american memory, but at least for the summer of 1870 captivated the nation, newspaper readers across the country and try to explain to it you in the -- so that you can see what i saw as i stumbled across it. i began writing -- i found this story while i was doing much more traditional legal history.
i was researching the famous slaughter-house cases, the first case where the supreme court intercepted the 14th amendment and i was reading every single day of the new orleans newspapers in 1870 and suddenly there's this story about a white baby being abducted by two african-american women, and the rumor begins to circumstance late that the baby has been abducted for use as a voodoo sacrifice. it's just like holy smokes, what can that possibly be about? is that true or is the press just telling a story? they talked about ghost sightings and other things. so as i was doing research, i started following along and the police began arresting voodoo practitioners. i realized i had stumbled on to something really quite interesting so what i want to do tonight is show you what interested me so much.
this is new orleans around the time of 1870 and the digby family were rich immigrants who had come with the great wave of famine irish back in the late 1840's. thomas and bridget digby lives in an area known as the back of town. it's back in here and it was a low-rent district because it flooded tall time. it was a place where people of different races and immigrant backgrounds all lived on to have of one another, and it is here that on a summer evening in 1870, the digby children are playing out in the street and a neighboring teenager is watching them and two african-american women come by and coo over mollie digby, the child. and the teenager allowed the women to hold the baby. and she goes down the block to look at a fire down the street
and the women left the child. particularly in a poor neighborhood, this would have ended up on the second or third page of the paper. it would have disappeared into the mist until it gets entangled in the fearsome application of reconstruction. this is where that neighborhood is today. the digby's street, the old howard street is actually the street you walk down as you approach the superdome. the whole neighborhood torn down and urban redevelopment plans in the 50's and 60's. every time i tonight the saints game, i was walk down the street of my story. i was haunted by the story. here's the kind of thing i saw in the newspaper. this is actually from the mobile paper reporting the events in new orleans. you'll see what it says.
"a horrible suspicion is connected in the public mind with the abduction of the infant child of mr. digby of new orleans." two weeks later, st. john's eve which is a sacred night the voodoo religion and voodoo practitioners consider themselves to be catholics. on st. john's eve they would have ceremonies on lake upon char train. the newspapers of new orleans are going to allege that mollie digby has been abducted for use as a voodoo sacrifice at the st. john's ceremony. you'll see down below, a general suspicious that the child was stolen for the rights of voodooism which are prevalent among negroes in louisiana. it is true that the practicing
of voodoo was a flourishing religion in 19th century louisiana and during slavery times it was kept under wraps because the slave owners found it threatening. but when the war ended, they could practice it. this would be a -- this is a depiction of a voodoo certificate mean isn't too critical. this is -- the next win is the one that you would see more often, kind of sensationalized depictions. this is out of a new orleans newspaper. depravity and lust locked arms at a voodoo dance they were -- at the time. and again, you might write this off as just a sensational story, but i very quickly realize, particularly from the newspapers
that were highlighting it that the story was being used by the conservative white press, and by conservative, i mean people at the time who were opposed to reconstruction. many of them were ex-confederates, former democrats and whigs who were appalled that the north backed by federal bay on nets where african american men could vote, where about a third of the louisiana legislature were african-american, where african-americans were serving in government positions, serving on juries and in new orleans on the police force. the reconstruction governor integrates the new orleans police force. these are african-american members of the louisiana legislature during reconstruction and they were about a third of the membership of that body. here's pictures of african-american men in louisiana voting.
after the military reconstruction act of 1867 and then the 15th amendment. here's a depiction of black policemen in new orleans. you can see the the man who wrote this book, a northerner, but it said the polite and efficient. for many whites in new orleans, it was almost too much to bear. their world turned up side down in a short period of time because of the civil war. this is a critical depiction of the new orleans legislature -- of the louisiana legislature at the time where the critics of the legislature depicted it as a place where former slaves in from the fields, illiterate, elected to office, run amuck within the legislature in the
north of louisiana who they called scalawags. this will be featured in a movie called "birth of a nation." so as this case gets sensationalized, as the white press is arguing, this is what is we can expect now that african-americans are free from slavery, over 10,000 move from the plantations into the cities. now that there's plantations on the street who will wink and nod when black people commit crimes against white people, the newspapers will start to understand that the reconstruction governor solve this crime. in particular they're going to listen to the calls that the crime be solved by elite white women of new orleans, the-wise
of the most prestigious men in new orleans, travel to the back of town and bring baked goods to the digby home. and marching to the home of the reconstruction governor understanding that he solve the crime. i want to read you a paragraph from the book, a short reading from the book as -- to give you some sense of how the book is written about these activities by elite women. "as the coverage of the digby abduction became more sensational, prominent white women adopted the digby case as their own. in late june and early july, wealthy women of new orleans would usually be preparing to
leave town for cooler climbs. just as in the theaters and restaurants closed, elite families put covers on furniture, packed white hats into trunks and went to the coast, new york or europe. but wives of dozens of the city's other prominent men marched to headquarters to demand resolution of the digby case. they brought food and other gifts to the digby's' modest house. by motherhood, crime and race, the case -- enter into public debate over reconstruction and express anger at the governor. raised in a culture that required them to behave as traditional ladies, most elite women left public commentary to men.
but in early july, 61 prominent women presented a feet governor warmoth urging him to do something, so that it may be allayed by the early restoration of the child to those who love it. they demanded that warmoth offer a reward for mollie's return. this is the reconstruction governor of louisiana. 28-year-old henry clay warmoth. a former soldier, elected to office largely by the votes of african-american men. his critics thought he was far too young to be the governor. they dubbed him the boy governor. he believed he was doing god's
worth. there's this image of the northerners who were in the south who were called carpetbaggers, that they were there to make themselves rich and the votes of so-called ignorant negroes for their own gain. warmoth actually believes in what some people have called the republicans' gospel of prosperity. he believes that -- he believed that if these governments could build schools, finish the railroads and bring all kinds of improvements, that they could lure into the republican fold economically-minded businessmen who would realize that they -- the republicans were doing things that they have long called for and that they might be willing to put racial animosity aside in return for economic development. this is warmoth's goal. and he is desperately wants to prove that his new integrated new orleans police force can
solve this crime. and he accepts the petition. he puts up a state reward for the return of mollie digby that eventually goes up to $5,000, about $40,000 today, which is a lot of money after the civil war. it's going to turn the digby case into the powerball of the 20th century. he has a group on his side that is going to make new orleans and perhaps mobile the places where many historians argue, if reconstruction was ever going to succeed, here it had the best chance. the group in new orleans that i speak of are the afro-creoles. they are a very interesting group, largely in louisiana and
mobile. they emerge from the culture of french colonial louisiana where wealthy white men often had romantic relationships with mixed race and black women and in this situation, when children were born, the white fathers, while they couldn't marry the women, made sure that their children had a start in life, make sure they had money, make sure they got an education, they'd attend their baptisms at st. louis cathedral and other places. there's a class that's going to continue on in leadership roles. i want to read to you from the book about the afro-creoles. so you can understand why they're so important and why warmoth is going to have the majority of his police force made up of afro-creoles, because
they are a polished class of people who could put the lie to reactionary's arguments that they were too illiterate to join in government. let me explain this to you. let me add one point just so this makes sense. what warmoth is going to do is to prove that his police force can solve this case is he's going to have his police chief choose his best afro-creole detect to be the lead detective in the digby case. the detective that he chooses is a man named john baptiste jourdain who comes out of this
free person of color class and then joins the union army when he gets the chance and then becomes a detective in the police force, and john baptiste jourdain was in some ways, the protagonist of my story. i'm going to place him in the context of his afro-creole heritage. detect jourdain belonged to a class of mixed-race men and women unique to the gulf coast. although the term creole had different meanings in different societies, in clone cal louisiana, anyone born in the colony was called a creole. over time, louisianans, black and white, who identified with french language and culture and with love are overwhelmed by the people arriving in new orleans after the louisiana purchase, they considered themselves to be cosmopolitan gentlemen and ladies. they looked to paris for aesthetic inspiration.
they bore silk pants and fine jackets. they defined silver utensils. built their homes with books, studied classical literature, formed exclusive ma sonic lodges and grew inspiration from the french revolution. they included painters, sculptors, doctors, merchants and skilled art sans. louisiana afro-creoles held almost 60% of the real estate. creoles of color took great pride in the francophone identity they shared with whites. they relished wine, food served with rich sauces and french colonial architecture.
they attended plays, cock fights and circuses together, all ghee bee it on a segregated basis, and you get the idea. john baptiste jourdain comes out of this class and again what warmoth wants to prove is that the new orleans police force had been previously a -- largely a group of thugs and every mayor that came in would turn the police force into his private army appointing their supporters. in the 1850's when the know-nothings were in office they filled the force with thugs who would beat up the irish and the germans. and they fill it up with men from henry hayes' brigade that charged up the hill at gettysburg but who were virulently anti-reconstruction
and when reconstruction begins, the police force now will get afro-creoles along with white officers who are committed to reconstruction and the mannerly educated, polished, well dressed detect jourdain is exactly the person that warmoth wants leading this investigation. >> images of white and black creoles strolling about new orleans after a matt nay. this is the police chief of new orleans whose job it is to direct jourdain and the other detectives in this investigation. he was part of the massachusetts regiment that arrived on pratt street at the beginning of the civil war in response to
lincoln's call for volunteers, is attacked by a baltimore mob and they had to fight their way across the city and badger was a member of that regiment. so he knew how fearsome resistance could be. one quick side light, and i had hoped he would have played more of a role. major dane is my lead detective. a detective named jordan noble, 72 years old. he was andrew jackson's drummer boy in the war of 1812. he's african-american and goes on to be the drummer boy when white new orleans forces go to fight in the seminole wars and the mexican war and becomes an officer in the union army during the civil war and then becomes a detect.
early on he and major dane go in disguise to black neighborhoods try to get evidence dressed as common laborers, but unfortunately, jourdain doesn't continue on in his prominent role. badger is directing the case. and again people are now looking for any african-american woman who is seen with a white baby and all over new orleans and the south, that had been the condition of things through all times, so everyone who now sees an african-american woman with a white baby goes running to the police saying i know where mollie digby is, i want to collect the reward. the newspaper fills with leads. leads come in from cincinnati, all over the place. at one point there actually was a traveling psychic in town. many people, including president lincoln, had séances to raise their dead. they'd have a clairvoyant who says she knows exactly where
mollie digby is. i'll let you read and find out what happens. you understand this is what engages me. suddenly, i'm sucked into this story while looking for traditional constitutional cases. i didn't know it would be years before i'd come out of it. these are homes standing in uptown new orleans at bell castle and camp. they stand across the street from homes that are -- were central to my story since torn down but look exactly like those buildings would have looked. and this is what i want to tell you. i am not going to tell you tonight what happened to mollie digby. i want you to read the book to find out. i will tell you who the republican reconstruction government eventually accuses of
having committed the crime and they eventually accuse of having committed the crime two afro-creole sisters, one who lived in mobile and one who lived across the street me. and the sisters ran a very interesting business. they were proprietors in both cities of lying in hospitals. and what that meant was, they were places where when wealthy white women got pregnant in difficult circumstances, out of wedlock, they could go to one of the sisters' houses and spend the time there during the pregnancy and have the baby outside of prying eyes. if a woman from a plantation family in mobile, alabama got in trouble, the sister in mobile,
louisa murray, would bring the woman to her sister in uptown new orleans and the reverse was true of a nine new orleans family got in trouble, she would go to mobile. the reason they were able to pull this business off is because both of these women have exquisite tastes. when at their trial all the papers do is off and on over what they're wearing, how beautiful their hair is, how strikingly beautiful these women are and how their homes were filled with rosewood furniture and paintings. this is an interesting business model where these women -- there were limited career possibilities for african-american women, could use their refined sensibility to create a special niche in the economy of lying in hospitals, and it is these women that get accused of the crime. and the trial is in many ways what you think of as a classic southern courtroom drama,
standing room crowds and sweltering courtroom fanning themselves. unlike the trials that you know from real life and stories like "to kill a mockingbird." where the outcome of the trial is predestined, reconstruction makes this trial so complex that in many ways, it is nothing like what a trial -- had the same trial happened shortly thereafter during the era of jim crow, you know these women would get convicted. but what makes this trial so compelling is that you have an integrated jury. there are at least three afro-creole men on the jury. a hung jury is a possibility. you have -- once these women are accused of this crime by the republican government, old lions of the confederate bar, including theodore gowier signed up to defend them.
so you have a world where the republican government committed to immigration is trying to convict these women who they think are guilty of the crime in order to prove their police force works but at the same time they're going after two african-american women in a way that when you know the history of southern trials, you're like uh-oh, a sort of complicated situation and it makes the verdict one in doubt right until the moment where the foreman stands up in the final trial which takes place against the back drop of the mardi gras parades to announce the verdict. has anyone ever written about this, i'm like, and no one had ever written about this. this is the first time this story had been told. i'm doing the wrong thing.
this is the -- hang on. we'll -- hang on. let me go back a little. packed courtroom where the trial took place. but i also want to -- i don't know what i'm doing here. this is -- there we go. this is the headline as the story begins to unfold. the associated press puts the story out on the a.p. wire, so both the investigation and the the new york times, everyone in the north is following the digby kidnapping much in the way today as we look for good news in america's efforts to reconstruct other nations, you look for successful public schools, something to tell you that this is working. moreover, we've got this is glamorous afro detective. and the story is being read all over the country. at one level, i want the story to be a who-done-it.
you're waiting to find out what happens to mollie digby, you're waiting to find out if these women get convicted. but i also want it to be for people interested in that narrative, but at the same time get them interested in reconstruction by building the context about reconstruction. some people of -- let's say who went to public schools before 1954, let's say, were raised in a world where their elementary school textbooks, north and south, gave the southern version of reconstruction, that it was a tragedy era of carpetbaggers and scalawags run amuck.
you're familiar with the scene in "gone with the wind," home their lost adventure came the tattered cavaliers. grimly they came hobbling back to the desolation that had once -- the carpetbagger, he's holding a carpet bag in the movie is allegedly someone who -- carpet bags were a cheap bag made of carpet remnants. if you didn't have a lot of money you cue buy a bag made out of carpet. and the story the historians have been telling since the 1960's but haven't managed to remove root and branch of the
american memory, the free -- it's a much more complex story. there are some examples of corruption but there are lots of them who believe they're kind of evangelical and northern progress thinking they're really needing to bring change to the south. my story kind of helps reinforce is that. and i hope to get people to read the book who may be still whetted to the old visions of reconstruction and may get a more complex view. and again, i'm not doing anything novel here. the alternative vision of reconstruction as a noble experiment that eventually failed picks up steam with the work of other authors. there's been "american
experience "documentaries. somehow it doesn't sing in. go to the amazon reviews of my book. there's one reader after another, this isn't the story of reconstruction we were taught in school. somehow despite all the work of historians, either people are whetted to the old view or they don't know anything about it. you know, i like people who love the civil war and, you know, i often go out, see the re-enactments and talk to people. they know every last detail of which flanking corps went where. the civil war is important and we need to know everything in detail. what i hear, i don't like, so we're going to ignore it. i'm hoping my book, when i'm trying to tell the story, a lived experience on the ground brings that to life. this is -- on the left is harold baccay. what i want to do now is i'll start wrapping this talk up.
when i started writing this story, i thought i was the only person alive who knew anything about it. because nobody had ever written about it before. none of my colleagues in history departments knew anything about it. and then as i started giving conference papers and other things, i started to get these e-mails. and i got an e-mail from a woman named isabel baccay in atlanta who turns out to be a famous new orleans family. in tracing her ancestry back, her genealogist had realized her families are descendants of detective jourdain. isabel and i started doing all the research to put me on to the pones of these figures who had left very little historical footprint.
when you get into the history of afro-creole families, it is extraordinarily complex and rich and it takes tons of work to get the story just right, and i've become friends of isabel and her uncle wayne, the famous new orleans creole restaurant family. dean baccay is editor of the new orleans times. next week i'll be there where we'll have meetings with the descendants of major dane. on the right descendants of the digby familiar why, who are going to be coming to the event as well. these are members of the digby family who live in carey, north carolina, which as you might know is a place where people have moved from all over the country.
it's relocated new orleanians. the people didn't know each other. they lived within a couple of miles of each other in carey, north carolina. i got them all together in a house and they all pulled out these documents, box full of family documents. everything that came out of the box, i'm like no way, no way. and this story has been kept alive. there's all kinds of elaborate family theories about who orchestrated the kidnapping, and why, which you'll read about in the book. i met them as well. and then i got an e-mail from a woman named sandra guenther clark and her father jerry up many new york. sandra was working at a business down in wall street and was in a stylish apartment. turns out they are descendents of the accused women. they had covered -- this is the golden age of jean logical
research, and it turns out that what happened with their family is that after this case ends, many of the children of these women who were mixed race afro-creole women 3450u6ed to new york, detroit, cincinnati and passed for white because in the era of jim crow, getting out from the stigma of all these laws, there was more economic activity for someone who would pass as white. over time, the family didn't know they had african-american ancestors. in doing the research, jerry guenther who lives in wisconsin, jerry and daughter sandra in new york found out that they have african-american relatives and were fascinated by it. so the story -- and the memory of the story and the people have stomach the story -- was very much alive. i didn't know that until i wrote
it. it's one of the things that makes history so much fun when you have these moments that's like holy, holy cow. this is a famous new orleans restaurant. he'll be hosting me next week. and then the photographer was a photographer in new orleans who i had contracted to take pictures for the book from the grants i received before i realized the case had any connection to the book. suddenly my photographer is a descendant of the detective and he's documenting scenes from his own family's history. this is what's one of the things the press has put out. but i'm hoping that in addition to being a who-done-it, you'll enjoy reading it. you'll see the importance of
history and the layers of it and the courtroom logistics, etc. i try to tell the story as add lived experience, which i think a good micro history does. the answers to anything you're still asking are in this book. i'd be happy to answer any questions from the audience. yes. oh, do we need -- i'm sorry. for c-span purposes, if you could speak at the microphone. >> well, i know that you don't want to necessarily drop a cliffy, but three questions. number one, did they ever find the girl? >> can't tell you. >> ok. that answers that question. number two, the creole -- african creole women who were accused, what white families were they descended from? >> they were descended -- i've
-- from the -- the fathers -- let me put it this way. as far as we can ascertain, they are descendants of augustine who came to the united states from haiti during the -- after the haitian revolution, a lot of haitian slave owners but -- as well as the mixed-race class moved to america and settled in mobile, as far as we can glean descended from that class. >> and the third question is, your book wants to be turned into -- is your book going to be turned into an audio book? >> interesting question. please turn my book into an audio book. some of the pieces of the court
were missing but other parts, good parts were there what i found is that the court stenographers such as they were, basically summarized what was going on. it would be -- and really, the best blow-by-blow accounts are from all of the reporters. i don't know how they did it. it's clearly different reporters at each of new orleans' seven newspapers creating the transcripts. and it's just enough different to know that somebody different is transcribing it. they take down these accounts that run the next day in the newspapers. those are the best sources for what went on in the courtroom. the court records are good. lots of data about where witnesses lived and good official data. but the newspaper transcripts were really the ones that brought the scenes to life. >> thank you. >> what impact did this case
have on the relationship between the creoles of color, the free creoles and the white community. >> can you quickly state that you're a new orleanian? >> yes. >> and a descendant of a creole family. >> yes, i am >> what again was the question? >> this case, what relationship change from the african creoles and -- >> there's a lot of mutual respect between the white creoles and afro-creoles in new orleans that is deeply strained by the fact that so many afro-creoles fight in the union ranks, because most of the white creoles, including p.g.t. beauregard fight for the confederacy. yet, you can still see in the trial transcripts, in the
relationships, because they're related. you know, there's still this mutual respect, pride in their francophone traditions. what's going to happen -- i don't know that this case is the cause of it. but after reconstruction failed and white supremacy is restored, there is a push comes to shove moment as jim crow descends where many non-creole whites say to the afro-creoles, you're either with us -- say to the white creoles, you're either with us or you're against us. and white creoles began to distance themselves from their afro-creole compatriots and we get this -- i will get e-mail from this televised lecture with
people arguing over the word creole. >> i'm sure you will. >> what it means, who can claim it, etc. i've given you my version of that, but it's still a very contested word. and -- but i would argue that through the reconstruction period, it's not clear that that split is going to happen. there's a brief moment where something happens called the louisiana unification movement where some white elite businessmen including general beauregard convince add number of lead afro-creole leaders to stay they will abandon the republican party, join them at a new party committed to business called the louisiana unification movement and the so-called best men of louisiana will now rule. it collapses as the white creole members are lambasted by non creoles for doing it. beauregard doesn't show up at
their big meeting. things completely fall apart. that's probably the last place some sort of coalition could have worked. >> thank you. >> great. thank you. other questions? >> all right. so my question is, at the end of your book you discuss something about the coincidence between what you're researching and where you were at the time. can you explain that? >> in -- again, as mentioned, i'm in the edgar allen poe room. i'm not much of a believer in the super natural. the houses i showed you earlier -- there. are across the street the home of the women that are accused. i found this story while i was living at -- with my wife ashley at 5229 camp street. and 5229 camp street -- and, you know, i began with the story of voodoo kidnapping.
and then i found these women who were accused were operating the hospital. 5229 camp street is exactly across the street from where a good portion of my story took place. i'm sitting in my house looking out at the same view they would have looked out on. i started drinking. it -- it seemed like a remarkable co inns deny, and it is just that, a coincidence. but it was in a city that's sort of spooky. it was sort of an uncanny moment. >> thank you. any other questions? ok. well, thank you. you've been a great audience. \[applause] >> and feel free to e-mail me, ma ross. i would love to hear from you. thank you for coming.
\[applause] >> you are watching american history tv, all weekend, every weekend on c-span3. to join the conversation, like us on facebook. >> on november 15, 1980 9, 6 days after the fall of the berlin wall, political aquiline -- political activist like walesa addressed a joint meeting of the u.s. congress and spoke about relations with the soviet union and political changes on the way in this country and throughout eastern europe. this program is about one hour. walesa,peaker, mr. like -- [applause]
>> it was 10 years ago, in august 1980 in the famous strike which like the emergence of the first independent trade union in a, this country which soon became a vast social movement supported by the polish nation. >> [speaking polish] ,> i was 10 years younger unknown to anybody but my friends in the shipyard and somewhat slimmer. [laughter] polish] ing
>> my friends would say this is important. an unemployed man at that time, fired from my job for an attempt to organize worker and fight for the right home i jumped over the shipyard wall and rejoined my colleagues who are late named me the leader of the strike. when i recall the road we have traveled, i often recall them saying jumped over the fence. now, others jumped fences and tear down walls. they do it because freedom is a
university law school professor who coined the term "net neutrality" on how to manage the internet. >> i have felt one thing getting overlooked in the debate generally in the big picture is the question of, what about all the people that don't have broadband? how are they going to get it? i would say no one is addressing that now. title ii does give the agency more power to try to do things like mandate universal service like we did for telephone service in the 20th century. it collects money which right now goes mostly to subsidized rural telephone service which could be repositioned to create rural broadband service. there are possibilities in title ii that he future president or chairman would say we need a universal service program and people all over the country need to have broadband. >> mondagh